Gov. Jerry Brown said at a housing summit in Oakland Tuesday that California has a "very vibrant" housing market but it needs to re-examine some laws and regulations that may be hampering the market.
Speaking at a forum on the future of housing in the state that was presented by the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, Brown said one thing that needs to be modified is the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires state and local agencies to identify and mitigate the environmental impacts of housing projects and other developments.
The governor said the courts have expanded the act's requirements since it was approved in 1969 but he believes "some reform is definitely in
Brown said, "It's something I'll be working on this year. I'll try to come up with some reasonable changes."
Brown said he empathizes with audience members who asked him if the state can help create more affordable housing for what they said is a
shrinking middle class that has difficulty finding good housing at a reasonable price but he said the state's role in the housing market is limited.
He said affordable housing is "a piece of the larger problem of the increased stratification of society" but he believes the state's role is to help provide good schools and safe communities instead of directly helping the housing market.
Brown said housing is influenced more by the private market than by the state.
He said, "The state is not in charge. We'll do what we can."
Brown then joked that the high cost of housing in San Francisco prompted him to move to Oakland in the 1990s, after which he twice was elected mayor of Oakland.
Referring to Oakland, Brown said, "The weather is better and the housing is cheaper."
Joining Brown and other speakers at the forum, Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan said lenders such as his bank tightened their
mortgage qualification measures after the collapse of the housing market several years ago but admitted, "We got it too tight and we'll now loosen" standards somewhat.
In response to a question from an audience member who suggested Bank of America didn't do enough to work with homeowners who wound up with problem loans during the mortgage crisis, Moynihan said the bank modified more than 1 million mortgages for homeowners nationwide who owed more money on their mortgages than their homes were worth.
Referring to the Bank of America's 2008 purchase of Countrywide Financial, which financed many problem loans, Moynihan said, "We inherited a
difficult situation and we're fixing things and getting them right."